From the Sino-NK Archives (31) – 09.04.2015 -The Crossings and Encounters of Kim Jong-suk: “And did those feet in ancient times…”

The house in Hoeryong said to be the birthplace of Kim Jong-suk. | Image: Foreign Languages Publishing House

The house in Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province that is said to be the birthplace of Kim Jong-suk. | Image: Foreign Languages Publishing House

The Crossings and Encounters of Kim Jong-suk: “And did those feet in ancient times…”

by Robert Winstanley-Chesters

The official resting place of Kim Jong-suk at the culmination of the Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery in Pyongyang. | Image: Rodong Sinmun

The official resting place of Kim Jong-suk at the culmination of the Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery in Pyongyang. | Image: Rodong Sinmun

In early 2015, political pilgrimage assumed a prominent position in North Korean state media with the celebration of a “250-mile schoolchildren’s journey” undertaken to commemorate the 90th anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s crossing of the Yalu River at Phophyong in North Pyongan Province in 1925. In my most recent essay, I looked at this process as a form of deterritorialization of modes of relation and interaction in North Korean historical narrative, and then considered reterritorialization via symbolic and ritualistic re-enactment.

In concluding, I asserted that one of the most interesting elements of the reterritorialization was the fact that it did not conclude with re-enactment of the crossing undertaken by the person it commemorates. Whereas Kim Il-sung broke the bounds of Chosun colonial territory and embraced new subjectivities of resistance from which he would re-emerge years later as the founding leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the school children ended their journey on the banks of the river, their subjectivity returned to a contemporary mode.

This essay explores other processes of territory, boundary and crossing in North Korean historical narrative, those undertaken by persons capable of such territorializations and reterritorialized in commemorative and political culture ever since. Though the main protagonist is–as ever–Kim Il-sung himself, the process of crossing is common currency in the stories of a great many figures in North Korean political history.

Resistance: A Family of Border-Crossers | Early in the 1920s, Kim Il-sung’s father Kim Hyong-jik is said to have made a river crossing of sorts during the process of his resistance to Japanese colonial power. Kim Chun-san, the father of Kim Il-sung’s first wife, Kim Jong-suk, is also recounted as “having engaged in the independence movement against the Japanese for many years, crossing and recrossing the Tumen River.”[1] Their motivations for moving across a national territorial boundary–in the words of Park Hyun-ok, the “osmosis” of Koreans as imperial subjects–may have been economically motivated, but in the retelling it is statements of resistance that loom largest.

Here we are primarily concerned with the early crossings, reterritorializations, and deterritorializations of Kim Jong-suk, one of the key narrative figures from early anti-colonialist, “heroic” era North Korean politics. Kim is now reterritorialized in monolithic commemorative form throughout North Korea, but in particular at her grave site in the Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery in Pyongyang. Her journey from narrative obscurity to the status of ‘anti-Japanese war hero’  has been a long one; indeed, her charismatic reterritorializations are almost as dramatic as the deterritorializations and border crossings upon which the narrative itself is built.

Kim Jong-suk at Samji. | Image: Kim Il-sung, With the Century, Vol. 3

The entire story of Kim’s life has taken on the kind of epic proportions which would readily spill over the boundaries of this limited essay, so engagement with her encounters with the topographies of the guerrilla struggle and Kim Il-sung will have to wait. For the time being, I focus simply on the crossings, territorializings, and becomings of her childhood and early adult life, which created the personhood of political charisma through which contemporary North Korean politics seeks to reterritorialize and extract charismatic subjectivity.

Bonds of Blood: Family and Finance | Kim Jong-suk’s father’s commitment to the early independence movement and contesting of Japanese imperialism brought the family disruption and financial difficulties. It is intriguing to note the impact of this resistance upon their territorial position:

… the family, unable to pay back its debits, lost its share cropping land and its thatched cottage was pulled down. They had to live in a room in another family’s house on Osan Hill….

Aside from this terrible impact on the household economy, we are also told that Kim Chun-san died in “a foreign land” in 1929. Meanwhile, Kim’s mother who had “helped her husband in his patriotic struggle” was killed “by Japanese ‘punitive’ troops in 1932.” According to the historical narrative, her suffering did not end there, as elder brother Kim Ki-jun and Kim Ki-song were both killed fighting the Japanese as part of the forces of Kim Il-sung.

This panoply of violence and death within one revolutionary family is shared with the family of Kim Il-sung, as is their crossing, Rubicon-like, of the Tumen. Kim Jong-suk shares her late husband’s tendency for intense retrospective remembrance, conceiving of this crossing as a vital moment in her upbringing and her development, transformative and distinct in its embedding of geographic locality within her consciousness, as demonstrated by the epilogue which begins this essay.

An examination of the utility of each crossing in the narrative demonstrates its use in the development of Kim Jong-suk’s own subjectivity. For while Kim Jong-suk and her family may have broken the bounds of their colonial subjectivity in their crossing of the Tumen and reterritorialization thereafter, they had not escaped their deeper subjectivity as peasants.

In the spring of the year when she reached the age of ten, her elder sister Kim Kwiinnyo was made the servant of a landowner because her family was unable to pay back the debts they owed to him… when the landowner and his sons came to take her…Kim Jong-suk [was] injured trying to protect their sister…. Not satisfied with this, the landowner deprived her family of the rented land… and instigated the police to watch her father and search her home frequently….

This instance of violent relations forced another crossing upon the family; this time to a village in the mountains called Xishanli. However, it is presented as a mental and spiritual crossing, wherein Kim “began to realise, the nature of the contradictions of the exploitative society that brought her misery and sorrow.” Continuing, she is said to have “felt hatred for the Japanese imperialists and her class enemies.”

Kim’s developing sense of nation would later drive her into a multitude of crossings and re-crossings. Alongside the revolutionary groups with which she was affiliated, she would live a migrant’s life of fleeting residence and journey across the boundaries of Chosun and the colonial statelet of Manchukuo. However, before her connection with the Young Communist League at the juncture of young adulthood, her final crossing, in which her subjectivity was transformed beyond the bounds of territory, is recounted as having been neither of geography nor terrain.

Leafleting: A Pedagogy of Revolution | “She herself wished to learn. The stronger her desire to learn the more bitter was the resentment she felt at the heartless world which denied her a decent life….

Kim Jong-suk’s final crossing, her final reterritorialization in this essay, began in 1930. While it appears that the young Kim had always been eager to learn and certainly willing to assert herself, accessing education and agitation was nothing less than revelatory for her. After her first class, Kim “could not sleep. The fact that there were people who were sympathetic to the poor in that cruel world excited her immensely.”

It would ultimately be Kwak Chan-yong, an activist from the Young Communist League who inculcated Kim into revolutionary modalities and who supported her final crossing and the transformation of her subjectivity. Receiving an assignment to disseminate revolutionary literature by night, the “next morning, the whole village found itself in great excitement to see the leaflets scattered all over their yards and the roads; one was even pasted on the gate of the landowners house.”

The die was cast it seems, there would be no further reterritorialization of the young Kim Jong-suk; only escape, transience and journey through resistance and revolution. In the next essay in this series, I explore how in later years Kim Jong-suk’s subjectivity would become acute and distinct, her personhood itself would bestow charisma and energy upon the ground across which she journeyed and fought. Charisma and authoritative energy derived from the crossings, traverses and travails of Kim Jong-suk and Kim Il-sung, that in later years could be re-deployed, transferred and redirected through pilgrimage, commemorative and contemplation, in the contemporary North Korean everyday.

[1] This quote, and all that follow, are taken from an electronic version of Kim Jong-suk: Biography (Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 2005). The book, unfortunately, is not paginated. Multiple digital copies exist, the best and virtual facsimile of the physical version is located here; this version was used in the production of this essay. Another copy, hosted in the United States, can be found here.


This post was originally published at – The author wishes to acknowledge the editorial support from colleagues at Sino-NK such as Dr Adam Cathcart, Christopher Green, Steven Denney and Darcie Draudt. Any edits or additions to the piece from its original authored draft are acknowledged. The author asserts his right to republish his own work here, but also acknowledges the element of co-production implicit from pieces originally published on

From the Sino-NK Archives (30) – 22.03.2015 – Footsteps and Deterritorializations: “And did those feet in ancient times…”

Whan that Apriil with his shoures soot

The droghte of March hath perced to the roote…

So priketh hem nature in hir corages;

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages….

– From the Middle English version of Geoffrey Chaucer’s classic, The Canterbury Tales

Footsteps and Deterritorializations: “And did those feet in ancient times…”

by Robert Winstanley-Chesters

Chaucer’s narrative of happy, hapless, challenged, and occasionally pious 15th century pilgrims to the shrine of Thomas Beckett at Canterbury is temporally, linguistically, and politically a world away from the snow covered Amnok and Tumen river basins of the 1920s. I do not seek to make any connection between the two, for none can be made other than to reconfirm the cultural importance of what was known to Chaucer and those of his age as “pilgrimage.” While pilgrimage, as both concept and action, has not faded from the repertoire of cultural practice (Lourdes, Santiago di Compostella and Uman in the Ukraine being relevant contemporary examples), in recent years some of the energy deployed has dissipated away to the field of secular culture and politics.

Pilgrimage has obvious advantages; it carves out temporal spaces in busy human lives and creates safe, shared groupings with which to journey. But perhaps the key feature of the act as it has been transmitted to secular form lies in its utility as a vessel for the carrying, sustaining, and socialization of memory. In Britain, for example, annual commemoration of the birth of trade unionism in the village of Tolpuddle recalls the Tolpuddle Martyrs, eulogizing their struggle and transportation whilst re-temporalizing and re-territorializing the process, narrative and context of the period.

amnok crossing

Kim Il-sung crosses the Amnok River in “Legendary Hero for All Ages.” | Image: Foreign Languages Publishing House

The Sun of Pyongyang: Deterritorialization | Anyone who focuses on North Korea will be well aware of the political conceptions that surround the country’s founding leadership and its existing state. Kim Il-sung, the first President of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is also the last as he holds permanent office. This extra-territorial, post-physical state allows Kim to serve abstract, esoteric functions in the North Korean political structure; as a vessel for memory and a carrier signal for charismatic authority. As Pyongyang’s “Sun,” Kim permanently radiates beneficence, care, and inspiration upon the topography and territory of North Korea, subject to the impact of neither physical nor temporal change.

However, the citizens of Pyongyang, no matter how politically engaged or institutionally connected they may be, live in concrete space and time. They are, therefore, potentially disconnected in vital ways (from a North Korean institutional perspective) from this font of ideological and philosophical inspiration. Addressing this matter requires a multiplicity of tools through which the state re-establishes the connection between Sun and people; by constant exposure to government narrative, the virtual omnipresence of images of the Kims, and studied celebration of waypoints in the narrative of the dynasty.

To all intents and purposes, commemorative days serve as North Korean “Saints Days;” crystallizations of supra-temporal, esoteric streams of narrative charisma.  The nature of Pyongyang’s mythos has been explored many times before; however, it also requires mythography. We have encountered this in other fascinating academic analysis. What has not been addressed is what seems to be a developing tendency to provide opportunities and spaces for North Korean citizens to encounter the charismatic energies produced by these ‘deterritiorializings‘ and ‘de-temporalizings’ for themselves; to walk theatrically in the footsteps of the nationalist past.

Across Frozen Rivers: Pedagogical Charismatic Journey | Far from the “shoores” of April and perhaps closer to the “droght” of March, Kim Il-sung’s crossing, according to current North Korea narratology, occurred in an icy January 1925 over the frozen waters of the Amnok (Yalu) River. It was this crossing which began the period of exile from which so much of Kimist authority and charisma derive. Naturally, this moment is already subject to much memorialization. This year marks the ninetieth anniversary of the act, and as such this obsession with anniversaries and commemoration was bound to be an important moment for political and ideological reiteration.

It was not surprising, therefore, when on January 23 Rodong Sinmun reported, “A national meeting took place at the People’s Palace of Culture Wednesday to mark the 90th anniversary of the 250-mile journey for national liberation made by President Kim Il-sung.” Nor was it surprising that the newspaper continued with the following paragraph of assertions:

On January 22, Juche 14 (1925) Kim Il-sung started the 250-mile journey for national liberation from his native village Mangyongdae to the Northeastern area of China. During the journey he made up the firm will to save the country and the nation deprived by Japanese imperialism. New history of modern Korea began to advance along the unchangeable orbit of independence, Songun and socialism.

Kim Jong-il’s attempts to utilize this key source of nationalist power on the fiftieth anniversary of the same in 1975 is addressed in the text. Space is also made for some of the urgent, vociferous Mt. Baekdu-focused themes of Kim Jong-un’s 2015 New Year’s Message:

Respected Marshal Kim Jong-un is wisely leading the work to ensure that the sacred tradition of the Korean revolution started and victoriously advanced by Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il is given steady continuity… calling on the school youth and children to hold them in high esteem as the eternal sun of Juche and carry forward the march to Mt. Baekdu to the last.

Schoolchildren start the march

Schoolchidren march off on the pilgrimage | Image: Rodong Sinmun

How would these school children hold this “sacred tradition” in esteem: Passive participation in a Workers’ Party meeting? The singing of songs and poems dedicated to nationalist urgency? Appearing slightly overawed and/or afraid next to the Young Generalissimo during on-the spot guidance? No, it would in fact be none of these, but something far stranger. Instead of abstraction and narrative opacity, there would instead be a period of acute reterritorialization on the pages of Rodong Sinmun, in the output of KCTV and, for a time, on the streets and paths of South Pyongan Province.

The process for the schoolchildren’s selection, the nature of the institutions from which they came or their ages, elements which might support a really coherent, cogent, and convincing re-enactment process, are never stated in Rodong Sinmun reporting of the enterprise. Yet the physicality of their journey is clear and important to the narrative. This physicality, common to pilgrimages elsewhere, in which breaks, pauses, and stops must be taken, one imagines to rest the tired legs of the children after crossing “one steep pass after another,” is clear to the reader. These are presented as real children of North Korea in 2015, not cyphers for the pre-Liberation, nationalist past; they are presumably revitalised by their intersection with ideological energy.

Schoolchildren visit Kangyye

In Kanggye | Image: Rodong Sinmun

Conceiving of this pilgrimage as yet another theatrical moment in North Korea’s never ending narratological flow would be to miss some of its most important elements and fail to draw out the deeper context. The theatrical potential is clear; yes, the children travelled down a well trodden list of places and spaces of charisma, one that appeared ideologically and narratologically sound. Having left Mangyongdae, Kim Il-sung’s home village in conventional narrative, they passed Kaechon, Kujang, Hyangsan, Huichon, and Kangyye, “along the historic road covered by the President with the lofty aim to save the destiny of the country and nation in the dark days when Korea was under the Japanese imperialists’ colonial rule.”

In keeping with Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of deterritorialization, the spaces and practices of relation within the frame of the journey are as important as its starting point, route and destination, a fact in common with earlier narratives of North Korean historiography (which will be encountered in one of the sister pieces to this essay). Though these children walk the route of the commemoration of North Korean revolution and liberation in 2015, the relational praxis encountered is that of 1925. Whatever these children think in the quieter moments of their own particular everyday (perhaps watching South Korean TV dramas on smuggled in USB sticks, helping their parents engage in furtive transactions at semi-legal markets, or just coping with the mixed ennui of resignation, exasperation and desperation produced by interaction with state institutions), the social and personal context of those dark days of the late 1920s is activated by their every footstep. Their breaks would include hearing the “impressions of the reminiscences of anti-Japanese guerrillas,” and beginning their march again they would become, represent, and even channel the aspirations of those same guerrillas.

It seems that having departed Pyongyang on January 22, the children arrived at their (and both Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il’s) destination, Phophyong in Ryanggang Province around February 4. Phophyong, they say, was the site of Kim Il-sung’s momentous crossing of the Amnok River, the site where the young man would transition from subjugated Chosun with its political frame of colonisation to resistance on the wild fringes of Manchuria and a new frame of personal and political liberation and struggle.

Schoolchildren visit Phophyong

Arriving in Kim Hyong-jik County [김형직군], a border county of Ryanggang Province that was renamed as such in the late 80s in commemoration of Kim Il-sung’s father. | Image: Rodong Sinmun

To Phophyong: And Beyond? | What is most intriguing is the location of this territory at the edge of the state. The school children arrived at Phophyong, a place famous in local history and culture as one of subjective transfer, of existential passage from one mode of relation to another, a place of crossing… and yet they did not cross. Perhaps in these days of strained relations between Beijing and Pyongyang such charismatic commemorations cannot be enacted on both sides of the sovereign boundary. Given the importance of North Korea’s ideological omnipresence, perhaps they could in any case never be undertaken in a different political space. But the acute re-territorializing of the contemporary everyday beyond the shore of the river at Phophyong leaves our narrative, their narrative, in a distinct disconnect, a functional void.

How are we to fill that void?

Leaving the schoolchildren of 2015 and their charismatic footsteps behind, we must return to the relational context of those ensconced in colonial and resistive subjectivity. Tracing their footsteps, pilgrimages and journeys we can, quite unlike the schoolchildren at Phophyong, navigate the bounds of territory and territorialization, and cross the Amnok…


This post was originally published at – The author wishes to acknowledge the editorial support from colleagues at Sino-NK such as Dr Adam Cathcart, Christopher Green, Steven Denney and Darcie Draudt. Any edits or additions to the piece from its original authored draft are acknowledged. The author asserts his right to republish his own work here, but also acknowledges the element of co-production implicit from pieces originally published on

From the Sino-NK Archives (29) – 27.01.2015 – Mountains and Seas of Gold: 2015 New Year’s Message

Kim Jong-un visited the KPA-run No.18 Fisheries Station in November 2014. | Image: KCNA

Kim Jong-un visited the KPA-run No.18 Fisheries Station in November 2014. | Image: KCNA

Mountains and Seas of Gold: 2015 New Year’s Message

by Robert Winstanley-Chesters

Forecasting the genuinely new in an annual message from North Korea’s Supreme Leader is to anticipate category failure and disappointment. Novelty by definition requires the potential for change or difference… and contemporary North Korea has never been marked by either. It seems that no matter how much it is wished for and conceptualized, Pyongyang has deflected, co-opted, negativized or outright ignored potential challenges to the core of its system. Nevertheless, that does not mean that the New Year’s Address can be discounted.

The 2014 New Year’s Address was acutely demonstrative of the genre’s form as a ‘directional beacon’ highlighting the narrative and developmental direction of the state for the coming year. Where 2013 had been a year of multiple revolutionary speeds, Masik Pass and other megaprojects, so 2014 focused on a key text from Pyongyang’s developmental history: 1964’s Rural Theses on the Solution to the Socialist Rural Question, a conceptual linchpin of practical and ideological progress in agriculture during a more governmentally coherent (though no less difficult) period in North Korean history. The return of the Rural Theses in 2014 suggested a structural cohesiveness to the developmental strategy of the Kim Jong-un government that, of course, may not really be present (a fantasy on the part of Pyongyang agricultural institutions); but, vitally, it politically underpinned the developmental goals of the Address.

Like most North Korea watchers, I was caught unawares by the prominence of the Rural Theses in the 2014 speech, in-spite of having written a considerable portion of my recent monograph on their structure and impact. The anniversary had not seemed significant. The 2014 Address sought to move on from the construction of dramatic megaprojects such as the Masik Pass Ski Resort, applying the Theses’ charismatic impetus to programs that had seemed fairly esoteric and diffuse, such as the Sepho Grassland Reclamation Project. Doing so appeared to be an exercise in reinforcement of their potential, which had hitherto appeared tenuous at best. The North Korean media continued to make reference to the Theses and their place in the New Year’s Address for much of the year, with mentions in Rodong Sinmun as late as the end of October.

Caught between the Tides: Predicting 2015 | In the lead up to January 1 this year, I racked my brain and delved deep into Kim Il-sung’s Works in search of agricultural/developmental focal points around which Kim Jong-un’s statement could coalesce. Of course, environmental historians of North Korea will be aware that the next significant developmental publication following the publication of the Rural Theses in 1964 was 1968’s ‘For the Large-scale Reclamation of Tidelands’. Therefore, lacking an obvious textual anniversary for 2015, the potential of the coming January remained a mystery.

Kim Jong-un’s message of January 1, 2015 heavily focuses on narrative, legitimacy and authority. It makes deep connection (as ever) with the historical narratives of Korean liberation in 1945 and the pre-history of that moment; one embedded deep within the Mt. Baekdu discourse of guerrilla struggle. Mt. Baekdu as a historical revolutionary terrain and physical topography has been a focal point of recent North Korean narratological themes, connected where possible to historical figures and anniversaries (such as Kim Jong-suk’s 97th birthday commemorations in December 2014), and contemporary institutional agendas and processes (the use of Baekdu revolutionary architecture, monuments and sites as epistemic space for the ideological training of Pyongyang bureaucrats early in 2014). Of course Mt. Baekdu has long been a vitally important political stage for the authority of the family Kim; but further than this, the 2015 Address makes great play at the coagulation of as many themes as ideologically and linguistically possible in a single text, on the physical site and within the metaphysical remembered space of Mt. Baekdu.

Leading Party Officials Visit Battle Sites in the area of Mt Paektu.

Party officials visit battle sites in the Mt Baekdu area on July 31st, 2014. | Image : Rodong Sinmun

The biography of Kim Jong-suk recounts similar connections between the geography of Mt. Baekdu and contemporary North Korean political and institutional need, as well as, usefully for his revolutionary and political legitimacy, the physical and metaphysical characteristics shared by Kim Jong-il and the topography of Mt. Baekdu itself.

A saying has it that a man resembles his birthplace; it’s true to say that Kim Jong-il resembled Mt. Baekdu. The mountain fascinates people with its majestic appearance – the enormous lake at its summit and its chain of high peaks – and its mysterious natural phenomena, all these are symbolic of the traits and mettle of Kim Jong-il, who possesses a far-reaching ambition, outstanding wisdom, firm courage, strong willpower, great magnanimity and perfect leadership ability… (Kim Jong-suk Biography, 2005, p.2)

Further to this, and extending the connection beyond the personhood of Kim Jong-Il and other members of the Kim dynasty, this year’s Address bestows the authority and charisma of Mt. Baekdu’s revolutionary topography upon the entire nation, its army, developmental approach and technological output.

This year we should display the revolutionary spirit and mettle of Baekdu to scathingly thwart the challenges and manoeuvres by hostile forces and score a signal success in the struggle to defend socialism and on all fronts of building a thriving nation…Upholding the slogan “Let us all turn out in the general offensive to hasten final victory in the revolutionary spirit of Baekdu!”…Bearing in mind the soul and mettle of Baekdu, we should become honorable victors in the general offensive to exalt the dignity of our socialist country and promote its prosperity on the strength of ideology, arms and science and technology. (Rodong Sinmun, 2015)

All Eyes on August? Transcending Liberation | Much of the metaphysical and narratological connectivity in the 2015 Address is aimed squarely at the lead up to the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Korean peninsula from the Empire of Japan in August. However, this newly reasserted sense of revolutionary authority is not designed simply to alight on preparations for commemorative events marking the septuagenarian anniversary, but also to connect them to annual Workers’ Party of Korea founding ceremonies, all at “blizzards of Baekdu speed”. Possibly successful developmental strategies (even if only “successful” in a narrative or presentational sense) from recent years are also reconfigured to these aims, redeploying the wind themed narrative structure of early 2014.

We should raise a stronger wind of creating the Korean speed…by completing with credit the major construction projects, including the multi-tier power stations on the Chongchon River, Kosan Fruit Farm and Mirae Scientists Street, we should splendidly adorn the venue of grand October celebrations. (Rodong Sinmun, 2015)

This reconfiguration is a trope of institutional and ideological focus common to many other periods of North Korean developmental history, moments of urgency and instances of Kimist demand. Fruit production, in particular rising apple production (the key focus of Kosan Fruit Farm), has a long, auspicious history dating all the way back to the agenda of the First Seven-Year Plan (1960-1967) and Kim il-sung’s landmark text, On Planting Orchards Through an All-People Movement (1961).

We are struggling for the future. We must build a communist society and hand it down to the coming generations. . . . We are creating everything from scratch in our time. . . . This is the only way we can be as well off as other peoples, and hand over a rich and powerful country to the new generation. If we plant many orchards, our people will become happier in seven or eight years. (Kim Il-sung, 1960, p. 21)

Kim Jong Un visits the Central Tree Nursery Image

Kim Jong-un visited the Central Tree Nursery on November 11th,2014.|Image: Rodong Sinmun

Five Orchards and Two Fisheries Stations: Mountains of Gold | Of course it remains to be seen (and may never be) whether the citizens of North Korean became happier in seven or eight years due to the planting of orchards, nor whether they were planted with the manner or urgency envisaged by Kim Il-sung. Similarly, a feature shared with President Park Chung-hee of South Korea, Kim Il-sung’s desire to reforest his sovereign domain following the impact of the final extractive, destructive years of Japanese colonialism has long been a key feature of North Korean developmental aspiration. In the lea of 1964’s Rural Theses, Kim Il-sung’s Lets Make Better Use of Mountains and Rivers with its assertion, “Using mountains does not mean only living by them. In order to use them fully it is necessary to create good forests of economic value before anything else” (Kim Il Sung, 1964, p. 256), set the stage for extensive focus on timber resources, one which is again echoed in the 2015 New Year’s Message.

The whole Party, the entire army and all the people should, as they carried out rehabilitation after the war, turn out in the campaign to restore the mountains of the country so as to turn them into “mountains of gold” thickly wooded with trees. (Rodong Sinmun, 2015)

Ultimately, the 2015 New Year’s Message reads akin to a hymn or paean to revolutionary stasis, a developmental treading of urgent water in anticipation of imagined new Utopian possibility. The Message’s diplomatic and political vision of trans-peninsular unification and Korean nationalism is configured with virulent aggression through the lens of Mt. Baekdu, anti-colonialism, perceived anti-imperialist victory and the embedding of revolutionary politics. This makes a non-starter out of any movement towards a resolution with those whom Pyongyang sees as the inheritors of colonial collaboration, the new colonizers, the old enemy and the not-so-new imperialist. Equally, 2015’s Message brings a developmental agenda frozen in urgent, assertive aspic. Perhaps KPA Unit 534 will bring in bounteous catches of pollack on the jetties of the January 8th Fisheries Station, revealing, as the New Years Message hopes, “a sea of gold”; however, for the North Korea analyst the counterbalance is the lead weight of history and narrative. Even in developmental terms, this Message required an acute awareness of North Korea’s revolutionary history to negotiate its sloughs and sumps.


Biography of Kim Jong-suk. (2005), Foreign Languages Publishing House, Pyongyang

Kim Il-sung. (1961). “On Planting Orchards Through an All-People Movement,” Works 15, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Pyongyang

Kim Il-sung. (1964). “Let us Make Effective Use of Mountains and Rivers,” Works 18, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Pyongyang

Kim Il-sung. (1964). “Theses on the Socialist Rural Question in Our Country,” Works 18, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Pyongyang

Kim Il-sung. (1968). “For the Large Scale Reclamation of Tidelands,” Works 23, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Pyongyang

Rodong Sinmun. (2014). “Kim Jong-un’s 2014 New Years Message”,

Rodong Sinmun. (2014). “Kim Jong-un Visits New Aquatic Products Refrigeration Facilities”,

Rodong Sinmun (2015). “Kim Jong-un’s 2015 New Year Message” ,


This post was originally published at – The author wishes to acknowledge the editorial support from colleagues at Sino-NK such as Dr Adam Cathcart, Christopher Green, Steven Denney and Darcie Draudt. Any edits or additions to the piece from its original authored draft are acknowledged. The author asserts his right to republish his own work here, but also acknowledges the element of co-production implicit from pieces originally published on

From the Sino-NK Archives (25) – 24.07.2014 -Politics and Pollack: It Take a Nation of Fishes

Kim Jong-un visits the <a href="">"KPA's 8 January Fishing Station" </a>on January 8. Image: Rodong Sinmun

Kim Jong-un visits the “KPA’s 8 January Fishing Station” on January 8. Image: Rodong Sinmun

Politics and Pollack: It Take a Nation of Fishes

by Robert Winstanley-Chesters

It is hard to recall a year in North Korea’s presentational narrative (other than during the era of the Arduous March) that wasn’t somehow critical to developmental focus, important to resource strategy, vital to agendas of increasing productive capacity. Of course, this is because forward momentum is not only important in terms of approach; it is also primary to functionality. Without the perception of forward movement, Pyongyang’s developmental strategy might appear to degrade. Yet even by historical standards, 2013 and 2014 have been extraordinary in terms of commitment, focus, and the sectorial spread of projects and themes.

I have already offered extensive comment on this year’s New Year’s Address, in particular in terms of renewing the contract between practical focus and authoritative narrative. This is represented in particular by the anniversary of the “Rural Theses on the Socialist Rural Question.” By restating the goals and structures of the Rural Theses, as well as their integration into the agenda of the  current Kim government, agricultural capacity and focus serve as carrier signals through which legitimacy, authority and charisma are transferred between the various eras of North Korean governmentality.

Here in this “Politics and Pollack” series I have focused on narratives of fishing and aquaculture in the history of North Korea. Fish, shellfish and other products of the sea are of traditional import for Korea, a nation bounded by water on three sides, and serve as important sources of protein. Their importance as a food resource is further extended by their availability irrespective of developmental successes or efficiency gains. Accordingly, fishing matters have been vital since North Korea’s creation as a sovereign entity. Extraction and utilization of piscine resources was of interest during the initial articulation of the Rural Theses, and nothing much changed thereafter: that interest continued in the developmental stasis of the 1980s and on into the institutional crisis of the 1990s.

In Vogue: Fishing Back on the Table | Although it diminished in importance during the Arduous March itself, fishing is now back in developmental vogue. This is perhaps connected to the revitalization of the agricultural narratives of the Rural Theses. The appearance of fishing in the New Year’s Address, along with a call for both memorialization and actualization of the Rural Theses, frames the development of the fisheries sector in a contemporary narrative mould. Kim Jong-un’s words that the state “should take measures to bolster up the fishing sector. The sector should follow the example of the fishing sector of the People’s Army that landed a huge haul of fishes by carrying out the order of the Supreme Commander unto death,” assert the relevance of military participation in the fishing industry, while the reference to carrying out the requirements of the “Supreme Commander” fold it into the close embrace of the Kim dynasty. Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il’s conceptions of fishing issues are vital to its continued institutional importance, their revolutionary charisma a driving impetus for its development. This charisma is being harnessed by Kim Jong-un in the current era.

Kim Jong-un’s order to modernize fishing vessels and infrastructure and to “launch a dynamic fishing campaign by scientific methods…” while potentially deriving from any era of North Korean development, places the sector firmly in a framework of technical and institutional approach that is intrinsically modern, and very much “2014” in the North Korean sense. We have seen similar strategies deployed in fungal development, turf and grass production, and more recently toward meteorology. While the fishing industry is to have the KPA and its institutions with their “unusual resolve and stubborn practice” as a model, it is more important for it not to fall into the traps of institutional stasis assailed by Kim Il-sung in the 1950s.

Enter 2014: The January 8 Fisheries Station | Kim Jong-un’s first official moment of “on the spot guidance” in 2014 embedded this modernized, scientific approach to piscine resource management, but equally connected previous examples to the new paradigm, allowing them to serve as hooks upon which further development could accrue. Rodong Sinmun recounted his visit to KPA Unit 534’s “Aquatic Products Refrigeration Facility” on January 8 as having underscored the “need to make the flames of the innovation drive in the fisheries field of the People’s Army rage furiously in the fisheries across the country.” It is interesting to consider the institutional functionality of undertaking a developmental project in the midst of such a furious rage; Kim Jong-un demanded that the KPA unit undertake the building of a fishing port facility to supply the refrigeration facility, and ostensibly complete its construction “before the Day of the Sun and start the fish supply from coming autumn.”

January 8th Fishing Station

January 8th Fishing Station. | Image: Rodong Sinmun

The “January 8 Fisheries Station” is required to connect not only the charismatic threads of Kimist authority, military urgency and technological development; it is also to absorb previous rhetorical elements derived from the intent to create a “strong and prosperous state.” Rodong Sinmun’s January 30 editorial reviewing developments linked to the project asserts, for example, “Fishery plays an important role in improving the standards of people’s living,” and, “To shore up the fishing industry is not simply an economic task, it is a political task to carry out the behests of the great generalissimos and our Party’s intention to make our people live better off.” Doing so at such a pace does not (in theory, at least) militate a reduction in technical or research focus; however, for a project built at a revolutionary pace must not neglect research or technical competence, since “Fishing operation today is in a certain sense a brain’s warfare and technical warfare. Therefore, it requires of us to keep the fishing industry scientifically and technically update.”

A little over a month later, Kim Jong-un was again present on the grounds of the January 8 Fishing Station, visiting on or around February 24. This visit both reiterated the urgency of the project and the importance of the KPA as a trusted institution within the developmental remit; a point that it is interesting to note in light of previous speculation as to the place of developmental issues and their co-option by Jang Sung-taek and his supporters.

I thought of the service personnel of the KPA who had carried out any task assigned to them, when I was making up my mind to build a modern fishery station here, and so, I declared I would entrust to them the project to which the party attached importance…

North Korean fishery station goes into operation on January 8, 2014 | Image via The Daily NK

The new North Korean fisheries station goes into operation on January 8, 2014. | Image: KCNA

Kim Jong-un’s statement about the importance of the KPA seems to reassert some level of hierarchical structure in the developmental agenda, with the KPA being the tool for the bidding of the Korean Workers’ Party, or at least part of the ecosystem of the project. This is reinforced by the presence of several important individuals from the KWP: one Central Committee department director and at least two vice-directors. Rodong Sinmun’s recounting of the visit concludes with a reminder of both its specific urgency and the future planning required for its successful utilization. Only two months in, and the institutional eye was looking towards the long term, officials being given instructions “to select captains and fishermen and prepare them as all-round fishermen in advance so that they may go out for a fishing operation right after the completion of the project.”

In the end it would only be five months between narrative initiation and completion of the January 8 Fisheries Station, its construction apparently achieved successfully on April 30. As was the case throughout the construction period, multiple narrative and developmental streams converge upon the project, reinforcing and supporting each other, as is the case in many such projects. Connecting the charismatic authority of Kim Jong-un, the political ideological framework provided by Kimism and the Korean Workers’ Party and the efficiency and brute strength of the Korean People’s Army, it is apparent that the impetus for the project is conceptualized within a wider framework of revolutionary and narrative urgency. Such projects are thus undertaken beyond the bounds of normal/non-revolutionary time: “This is another miracle and a model of creation of speed of Korea which can be created only by the Korean People’s Army possessed of indomitable fighting spirit and heroic fighting traits.” They operate in, as if it were possible, charismatic time. Yet in spite of their charismatic tone and content, they are also conceptualized within a more mundane, frame, one in which “it is aimed to supply fishes to baby homes, orphanages, orphans’ primary and secondary schools and old folks’ homes across the country.”

Multiple Scales: What Pollack Can Teach Us | Is this not the developmental lesson to be extracted from these three essays on fishing, fishery resources and the narratives that surround them? These projects and the developmental, environmental or agricultural sectors in which they are placed essentially function on multiple scales, as indeed do politics and ideology in North Korea. All ultimately connect with the narratological strands that serve to underpin, define and legitimate the charismatic political form; all strands lead to the Kims or their conceptual origination, and thus all are transformed by that charisma and those narratives into something not far off the miraculous. This narrative of the mythic and the miraculous sees these projects and those participating in them as existing in a revolutionary charismatic time, in which projects such as the January 8 Fisheries Station and other fishing projects can be achieved at infeasible yet “realistic” speeds. At the same moment there exists a more mundane chronological plane, a timescale of everyday commitment, toil and dedication. This is the domain of the (soldier) builders and the shock brigaders, of the provincial party members, the institutional apparatchiks, all those that are charged with bringing narrative, assertion and aspiration to practical reality.

In a sense neither of these chronologies and categories of spatial relationship or engagement are disconnected from the carrier signal of charismatic politics, both being vectors by which Kimist narratives must be embedded or developed. Herein lies the interplay between Kim Il-sung’s post-colonial assertions from 1948, his call for ship development at Ryukdae and Chongjin shipyards in 1969, and Kim Jong-un’s desire for a “miracle” of institutional construction in 2014; a liminality, slipperiness and transferability across institutional scales, developmental epochs and politico-narratological forms that provides for the connectivity between politics and Pollack.


This post was originally published at – The author wishes to acknowledge the editorial support from colleagues at Sino-NK such as Dr Adam Cathcart, Christopher Green, Steven Denney and Darcie Draudt. Any edits or additions to the piece from its original authored draft are acknowledged. The author asserts his right to republish his own work here, but also acknowledges the element of co-production implicit from pieces originally published on

From the Sino-NK Archives (24) – 17.06.2014 – Politics and Pollack: Fishing in the Age of the Six Goals

The Cholsanbong (named after a hill in Musan, on the Chinese border), a ship produced in Chongjin in 1985, sets sail. | Image by Graham Moore, on

The Cholsanbong, a ship produced in Chongjin in 1985 and named after a landmark in a coal town on the Chinese border, sets sail. | Image: Graham Moore/

Politics and Pollack: Fishing in the Age of the Six Goals

by Robert Winstanley-Chesters

In the previous essay in this series, we encountered a North Korea of construction, both in the immediate period following liberation from Japanese colonial rule and in the post-Korean War era. At that time, Pyongyang was faced with a mammoth institutional and technical task, mirroring the comprehensive nature of allied bombing campaigns and the dynamic fighting of the war’s first two years. Reconstruction was most imperative on land, especially as a remedy for the destruction of Pyongyang itself and the wider degradation of North Korea’s industrial infrastructure and capacity.

This reconstruction of urban and industrial space was matched by difficult tasks within the agricultural and food production field. Likewise, the need to augment capacity in the field of aquaculture was pressing, made all the more difficult by the post-war settlement which had essentially solidified US dominance of the naval field. The postwar years thus produced particular challenges for Pyongyang’s maritime institutions.

In spite of these challenges, North Korea’s post-war maritime development mirrors both the ideological and the practical drive and agenda of its land-based institutions. First, the DPRK engaged in rapid reconstruction at the direction of supportive Soviet technical specialists, replacing and regenerating technical capacity, fleet, and catch equipment. Secondly, in a brief period of ideological inspiration from Mao’s Great Leap Forward that birthed the still frequently utilized Chollima movement, Pyongyang’s wider agricultural and industrial agenda was reshaped. This occurred before a longer period of geopolitical triangulation (described by Charles Armstrong) in which North Korea sought to go its own careful equidistant way between the two poles of affiliated power: China and the Soviet Union.

As the rhetorical and physical battles between Moscow and Beijing intensified in the late 1960s, Pyongyang ended the decade on a rising note, as indicated by the announcement of the “Six Goals” in 1968. (Fishing capacity was a key element in the “Six Goals.”)  The 1970s were a period of international extension in other fields in North Korea, but in the fields of resource production (e.g., fisheries), policy developments became demonstrative of the beginnings of later internal stagnation.

Fishery Workers are Discouraged | Fisheries policy in this period begins with a 1968 text by Kim Il-sung, which serves to reiterate Pyongyang’s institutional developmental focus:

Our party has been paying close attention to the development of the fishing industry since immediately after liberation… within a few years after liberation the material and technical foundations of the fishing industry were laid. [1]

But this essay is but a subtext to Kim’s far more expansive “On Taking Good Care of State Property and Using It Sparingly.” This text is equally concerned with critiquing past developmental progress. As Kim noted:

[W]e cannot rest content with this. So far we have laid only the basic foundations of the fishing industry.[2]

Kim’s institutional developmental critique intriguingly addresses environmental issues and developments that, in a sense, echo later ecological concerns of a more contemporary North Korea. These concerns in our time have focused on land-based ecologies, but Kim here focuses on the maritime environment “because of change in the current” which had resulted in “only small numbers of mackerel and yellow corbina in these waters.”[3] Kim decried the “frequent floods” which fishery workers had told him they had to contend with. [4]

Primarily, however, the principle initial concern of the text is its critical framing, which is deployed against institutional structures and participants, even in their responses and solutions to these environmental changes. Kim states:

[B]ecause we are inexperienced we have only prepared many nets needed for catching mackerel… since we had expected big shoals of this fish to come… we could not catch them because they did not come…. After that fishery workers are discouraged and at a loss for what to do.[5]

Ryukdae and Chongjin Shipyards | Technical and strategic development are also critiqued. Even the fleet materiel sourced from foreign supporters, previously lauded, was now problematic:

The 450-ton trawler we are now producing has many shortcomings. [For example,] it can be used for fishing only in the Black Sea or the Baltic Sea… [and] it cannot be used in the Pacific Ocean where the waves are moderate.[6]

The plan, like its counterparts on land, revolved around a large expansion in sectorial capacity, replacing these smaller, seemingly unsatisfactory boats. But even if it needed to be done quickly, this expansion was to be carefully managed and located in a few centers of industrial excellence—for example, the Ryukdae Shipyard in the Komdok Island area. This shipyard was to serve as such a center for the industry in the West Sea.[7]

The primary locus of this fleet and sectoral renewal was to be at Chongjin, where apart from Ryukdae’s efforts to build mid-range ships of some 600–1,000 tons, North Korea was to construct much larger vessels of between 3,000 and 10,000 tons.[8] While institutionally this production was to be supported by the Ministry of Fisheries, the Ministry of Machine Industry Number 1, and Provincial Party Committees, other sub-sectorial elements close to Kim’s heart would need to be involved. He writes:

[A]t the moment people at the ship repair yards busy themselves getting engines, spare parts and paint, only after the ships return from the deep seas. They say therefore that it takes a few months to repair a ship, and sometime it even requires 150 days. Consequently they miss the fishing season.[9]

Such a structural failure of supply and organization would, of course, not be welcome in any nation’s industrial sectors, even less so in one for whom capacity and output is absolutely vital. Just as a reorganization was pending within those institutions undertaking the fishing fleet’s construction, so too was there to be new connections made between those departments and projects responsible for that fleet’s maintenance and support. As Kim put it:

[I]f we are to succeed in this work, we must have a large quantity of engines and other spare parts in stock… a ship spare parts factory should be built in Kimchaek City… then it will be easy to obtain supplies of steel from Songjin Steel Plant.[10]

North Korean aquaculture in the present era | Image from Rodong Sinmun, via NK Food Blog

North Korean aquaculture in the present era | Image: Rodong Sinmun

Fishing on a Smaller Scale | Apart from the more dramatic and grand scales of development and construction focused on the deep sea, “On Developing the Fishing Industry Further” also sees connectivities and possibilities on a smaller scale:

At the moment there are many good comrades in big cities… who live on pensions because of illness… it will not be bad to engage them in fishing… they will be very pleased if they are told to catch fish with nets and rods in boats while they continue to receive the benefits from pensions. [11]

Kim Il-sung envisages here the revival of a model of semi-informal fishing co-operatives using these marginalized or peripheral workers. The word “semi” is of course highly important as these are still to be well integrated into institutional and political planning and serve as much as part of sectorial planning as those facilities and sets of workers undertaking activity in the deep sea.

Beyond developmental capacity and institutional structuring, the final key point of this text is one equally familiar to analysts of North Korea and scholars focused on agricultural development and capacity elsewhere in the world in the coming decade. Pyongyang’s developmental focus begins to assert the categorical importance of scientific research and the place of the scientist within institutional structures, and Kim is no less assertive within this text: “It is not an exaggeration to say that the modern world is one of science and that science and technology decide everything.”[12] This scientific focus is important in the protection of stocks, the development of fishing areas in freshwater environments. Science is to become vitally important in North Korea, not only to fishing and fisheries,but to the wider frameworks of politics and ideology. For example, one of this text’s final concerns is to embed this scientific commitment within this political imperative:

[T]he fishery sector must carry out a forceful ideological struggle against the conservatives who are trying to check our advance and thus develop the science of fisheries as soon as possible….”[13]

Blue Crabs, Gizzard Shad, and Anchovy | This scientific gloss on fishing development in North Korea becomes more politically acute as the decade develops it seems, becoming located in the contemporaneously familiar and still troublesome West Sea area. Countering what is perceived as a world food crisis, Kim writes: “the world is currently experiencing an acute food shortage… according to information from abroad, as much as a quarter of the world’s population is now suffering from malnutrition.”[14]

In his “On the Further Development of the Fishing Industry in the West Sea,” Kim cites much of future development within that most disputed of North Korea’s maritime areas. Here Kim Il-sung carries over much of the focus on small scale fishing from earlier texts, creating a potentially enormously crowded developmental space within a complicated locale:

[I]t would be reasonable to establish fishing bases around Ongjin, Monggumpo, Sukchon and Mundok in South Pyongan and in Cholsan, Chongu, at the mouth of Chongchon River and on Sinmi Island in North Pyongan Province….[15]

While Kim’s concern to harvest the “well known fish in this sea”[16] is clear and the focus on the West Sea areas developmental possibilities acute, its generative capacity means that Pyongyang will see the expansive deeper spaces of the East Sea as its institutional priority. Kim Il-sung’s “Let Us Develop the Fishing Industry and Increase the Catch” draws out the importance of the East Sea as a zone of pelagic exploitation as well as reconfirming the themes of science, development, political connection, and capacity increase which have marked the 1970s as a decade in policy terms:

The fastest and most rational way of solving this problem is to catch large quantities of fish. Our country is bounded by the sea on three sides, so it is much faster and more economical to solve the protein problem by developing the fishing industry….[17]

While this text begins with an extremely positive note,[18] it is clear from even a brief reading that in spite of the importance of the East Sea fishery and the extent of institutional concern shown to it, there are factors at play to thwart this ambition. Some of the hesitancy and “conservatism” Kim wished to banish through the incorporation of scientific modernity and technical development appears still extant at the close of the decade:

I have emphasized on more than one occasion that the officials in charge of fishing should study deep-sea fishing. But they have claimed there are no fish in the deep sea, and have not looked into methods of detecting shoals and catching the fish. They even altered the contents of the textbooks to concur with their opinion.[19]

Kim Il-sung giving guidance to party members in 1961 | scan courtesy library of Queen's University, Belfast

Kim Il-sung giving guidance to party members in 1961 | Image: Library of Queen’s University, Belfast

Pollack the Fish of Choice in a Disappointing Decade | Despite some two decades of development, political impetus, and imperative it is in a sense a little astonishing that Kim Il-sung in 1978 could determine that “since summer fishing has never been organized on the East Sea, we have no clear idea of what kinds of fish are living in the East Sea and what kinds of migratory fish visit it.”[20] It appears that it is not only the research and knowledge basis that is weak, but even infrastructural development, and the ambition behind it has been neglected. Far in fact from the aspirations to 10,000 ton ships, Kim Il-sung almost balefully recalls that “some years ago a 1,000 ton fishing vessel was built, but some officials of the fishing industry said that it was unserviceable even before it was used.”[21]

Ultimately, while political drive and ideological embedding served to push along North Korea’s developmental narratives within the fishing sector, the 1970s, according even to Kim Il-sung’s own assertions, ended on a downbeat tone. Whatever has happened in the previous decade, scientific development and research had not occurred, institutional connections remained counterproductive and diffuse, and both capacity and actual productivity and catch appeared substantially disappointing. It is apparent that many of the same drag factors and inefficiencies that beset the agricultural sector on land and crippled North Korea’s industrial and economic productivity had been present in the fishing sector as well. Kim writes:

Pollack is a very good fish. Because it contains less fat and more protein than other fish, it is not only palatable but also good for the health.… From olden times, therefore Koreans have offered it at the altar. It seems that our ancestors also like Pollack.…[22]

While pollack may well have been Kim Il-sung’s fish of choice and deep and frequent catches an aspiration of Pyongyang’s fishing fleet in the 1970s, the era of the “Six Goals” and “Great Tasks” (though primarily on land), would soon fall given these diminishing and seemingly unrealizable tasks.

The Party Congress of 1980 would abandon wider strategy and goal setting for the next decade, determining that perhaps it was better to focus on simply achieving what was possible despite inefficiency and incapability. Maritime production and the fishery sector were as subject to this abandonment as were the national framework of forestry goals and tidal reclamation. However following this later period of stagnation and near collapse, fisheries policy would again post-1997 connect with institutional priorities and a new developmental agenda. This era, our current, which features the January 8 Fisheries Project and Kim Jong-un’s new apparent interest in matters pelagic will be the subject of the third and final part of this series, in which connections and inheritances from this foundational, yet somehow fitful and unfulfilled, period will be analyzed and uncovered.

[1] Kim Il-sung, “On Developing the Fishing Industry Further,” Works 24 (Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1969), 52.

[2] Ibid., 53.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 60.

[5] Ibid., 54.

[6] Ibid., 55.

[7] Ibid., 57.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 58

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 61.

[12] Ibid., 66.

[13] Ibid., 66.

[14] Kim Il-sung, “On the Further Development of the Fishing Industry in the West Sea,” Works 32 (Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1977), 65.

[15] Ibid., 70.

[16] These are listed as “planktonic shrimps, prawns, Acetes chimensis, Blue Crabs, Gizzard Shad, Yello Corbina, Setipinna Gilberti, Anchovy, Sand Ell and Grey Mullet.” Ibid., 67.

[17] Kim Il-sung, “Let us Develop the Fishing Industry and Increase the Catch”, Works 33 (Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1978), 86.

[18] It reads: “A large amount of Pollack was caught by our fishermen last winter. The catch is large every year, but last winter was an all-time high….” Ibid.

[19] Ibid., 88.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid., 93.

[22] Ibid., 98


This post was originally published at – The author wishes to acknowledge the editorial support from colleagues at Sino-NK such as Dr Adam Cathcart, Christopher Green, Steven Denney and Darcie Draudt. Any edits or additions to the piece from its original authored draft are acknowledged. The author asserts his right to republish his own work here, but also acknowledges the element of co-production implicit from pieces originally published on

From the Sino-NK Archives (23) – 30.5.2014 -Politics and Pollack: A Piscine Story

Kim Jong-un assesses the maritime bounty | Image: Rodong Sinmun

Kim Jong-un assesses the maritime bounty | Image: Rodong Sinmun

Politics and Pollack: A Piscine Story 

by Robert Winstanley-Chesters

It surely cannot have escaped the analyst’s eye that fishing and fishery matters appear to have moved several notches up Pyongyang’s list of priorities in 2014. In fact, ever since Rodong Sinmun’s announcement “The Party Requested, They Did It!” just before Christmas, a gush of piscine reportage has emanated from North Korea. Some observers might link this to the putative reasons advanced for Jang Sung-taek’s execution, namely, that Jang had gained some sort of control over fishery rights and resources in the West Sea that had previously been within the remit of the KPA. Those somewhat less dramatically inclined might remark that this emphasis on fishing might be expected, as it had been featured as a key element of this year’s New Year’s Message, along with the heavy steer towards the Rural Theses, so it should not have been anything of a surprise.

Whatever the reason tendered, this recent outburst of state media activity on fishing matters requires our attention for various reasons—foremost because it emerges as a departure from the norm. In developmental and resource extraction terms, Pyongyang’s traditional policy has very much been focused on land.

This year’s emphasis on Sepho and the Rural Theses, reflecting the state’s guiding project and principles, respectively, focused on land use. Even Masik Pass was a land-based development. By contrast, deep water fishing for North Korea has been made difficult by both the unfavorable topography along its eastern coast and the US command of the sea, crystallized at the Korean War’s armistice into the Northern Limit Line and inducing painful issues for the DPRK on the western maritime boundary. Deep-water fishing and industrial fish production also requires extensive resource outlay and a level of institutional efficiency and organization that North Korea has often lacked in recent years. But it has been tried in the past and, examining the commitment of resources, North Korea’s current efforts to increase the capacity and extent of its fishing activity appear genuine.

This essay is in several parts in toto. While I will examine in detail in the second part how this latest outburst of focus and energy on fishing and fishery resource connect to both current and contemporary events, as well as more generally the political themes of the Kim Jong-un era in subsequent essays, I want to first take the reader elsewhere temporally as well as pelagically. While our contemporary era sees resource and developmental planning and approach in North Korea intricately connected to the sphere of the politically charismatic and theatric, when it comes to fishing was it ever thus?

Kim Il-sung and deep sea trawlermen |Image:

Kim Il-sung and deep sea trawlermen |Image:

A New Basis for Fishing | From the beginning of institutional development in Pyongyang, post-Liberation, it is possible to be narratologically thematic when it comes to fishing matters, and this in fact is partly what this essay is about. However, before I examine in a periodic fashion its overall narrative, it has to begin somewhere. The first text relating to piscine matters in North Korea (although naturally it references projects and intent from long before its own pages), is “On Developing The Fishing Industry on a New Basis.” Presented to the Central Committee of the KWP on July 8, 1948, the reader can still discern the post-Liberation and post-colonization tensions of the early years in North Korea.

Seabound on three sides, our country is very rich in marine resources. The fishing industry is a major component of our national economy and plays an important role in improving the people’s living standards.[1]

While Kim Il-sung’s assertions of the sector’s importance will become familiar to the reader, the texts’ temporal context is clear from the issues arising from the post-Liberation de-Japanizing of the nations’ economy and institutions: “[W]e set up a new fishing system by reorganizing the fishing associations formed in the years of Japanese imperialism… through nationalization of fishing grounds, fishing boats, processing factories, netting plants and other fishing equipment and facilities formerly owned by Japanese imperialists, their collaborators and traitors to the nation.” [2]

Equally it is possible to catch a glimpse of the brief post-Liberation mixed economic strategy of North Korea, a strategy most overtly evident in the case of land reforms. Just as was the case in agricultural production, Pyongyang in its denuded post-Liberation state could not, it seems, rely on the infrastructure and bureaucracy left behind by imperial Chosen. Instead, and against its ideological inclinations, it was forced to utilize whatever private enterprise was left or had been in Korean hands at the moment of Liberation. It was not a comfortable relationship apparently: “Of course, we have encouraged private fishing and will do so in the future, too. But, if we rely on private fisheries alone, we shall not be able to shake off the backwardness in our fishing industry and satisfy the people’s demands for marine products.”[3]

Whatever the discomfort, Kim Il-sung also asserts some familiar institutional themes, such as a focus on planning: “a plan must always be concrete, scientific and dynamic…;”[4] institutional structure and connection: “each bureau of the People’s Committee of North Korea related to the fishing industry must shake off the tendency to narrow departmentalism…;”[5] and the place of politics and the Korean Worker Party within any developmental framework: “the party organizations in this field must radically improve their functions….”[6]

However institutionally-embedded or politically-structured the fishing industry and its productive capacity had become, it would have been decimated by the destructive period of the Korean War. It would be some years until fishing was again the focus of such direct consideration from Kim Il-sung, those tumultuous war years resolving through their apocalyptic process some of the issues mentioned by Kim in 1948. 1957’s “On the Development of the Fishing Industry” seems a very different beast. One steeped in the productive and technical intentions of Pyongyang’s post-War period of rehabilitation. This is a period, before Stalin’s death when Moscow and the USSR’s technical writ was most vital to North Korean policy, a point again confirmed by this text “we invited Soviet scientists who were engaged on maritime research in the Far East. They came to our country under an agreement reached when our Government delegation visited Moscow last year.” According to Kim these Soviet technicians and experts supported the first goal-setting focused approach from Pyongyang in the fishing sector as “they drew a conclusion… that we have enough fish resources to land some 500,000-600,000 tons a year in the next five years.”[7]

This goal for the extraction of 600,000 tons of fish annually was instantly adopted by Kim and itself embedded within all manner of developmental elements; from nutrition: “If we land 600,000 tons of fish, it will mean an average of 60 kilogrammes per person per year… [and] the people’s living standard will be improved considerably;”[8] to fishing methods and technical capacity: “[A]ll possible fishing methods including medium and small-scale, seasonal and deep sea fishing should be readily applied both in the East and the West Sea.”[9] While the strategy itself seemed wholly all inclusive it, just as its agricultural twin in the realm of grain productivity, was not however long lived. Stalin’s death in 1956 and its implications had already laid the ground work for its rapid diminution.

North Korea’s geo-political revanchement towards the more ideologically favourable winds of Maoism and the People’s Republic following the extraordinary events of Stalin’s death, Khrushchev’s rise to power and the accompanying softening of Soviet autocracy has been well documented by a number of commentators. The implications of this in the developmental field have been also noted by analysts from the period. However, the sectoral connections between Maoist principle and the rise and articulation of the Chollima concept for example and fishing and fisheries policy have not been subject to extensive focus.

Perhaps Maoist revolutionary urgency and influence can be best seen in this sector in the abrupt change of focus when it comes to research and technical development. North Korean commentators, even those not strongly concerned with developmental matters, will surely be aware of the acute importance of doing things and achieving goals in a technical or scientific manner. In 2014, images of scientists undertaking important work are a highly frequent trope of North Korean government imagery and narrative production. In the blast of ideological change brought on following Mao’s Great Leap Forward, Pyongyang’s articulation of the Chollima movement and its urgent harnessing of the power of mass movements and mass population, developmental texts echo this focus on the popular.

Kim Il Sung and Fishermen at Nampo

Kim Il-sung and Nampo Fishermen | Image:

Fish Culture is Not Hard to Do | “On the Tasks of the Party Organizations in South Pyongan Province,” delivered to the Provincial Party Committee of that Province on the  January 7, 1960, includes the axiomatic and extraordinary statement that: “We must intensify ideological education among the fishery officials and eradicate mysticism, empiricism and all other outdated ideas so that they will improve the fishing method zealously with the attitude of masters….”[10] When reading this for the first time I wonder whether this really did constitute a repudiation of the high position of epistemic, academic community, but assertions that “Fish culture is a not a difficult job. A little effort and everyone will be able to…” suggest it might be so.[11]

As with many of the developmental strategies however there is an element of what might be termed “popular schizophrenia” about them. In an effort, again familiar to North Korean analysts everywhere and in most temporal contexts, Pyongyang’s focus attempts to be all things to all sectors at many different times and situation. Thus while empiricism is rejected during this period, it is not clear how categoric this rejection is, as reference is made to learning from scientists, although framed within a project to embed their knowledge within the institutional framework tasked with harnessing the masses. “[C]hairmen of agricultural management boards and Party committees should read a lot and learn… [about] the know-how of fish breeding and sea culture.”[12]

As the collapse of the Great Leap Forward became clear to Pyongyang, its geopolitical adherence again shifted, and the dramatic, insistent, and urgent elements within developmental praxis began to wane. Although the mid 1960s saw fishing goals reimagined upwards along with the rest of the “Six Goals” (“we should raise the production of seafood to 800,000 tons…”[13]), the sector would be quickly connected to what might be termed a more “rational” set of developmental strategies.

Akin to the fields of grain production, forestry, and many others, fishing and fisheries would be embedded in the late 1960s and 1970s in a thick set of connecting institutional repertoires. Developmental projects and strategies would have to connect with bureaucratic and institutional structures (at all levels of governance) and ideological and theoretical progress and pay homage to both the Korean Workers Party and the Korean People’s Army. “For Bringing About Rapid Progress in the Fishing Industry,” apparently articulated by Kim Il-sung in early June, 1968, is a prime and useful example.

“Developing the fishing industry is of great importance in improving the diet of the working people, particularly in providing them with protein….”[14]

Although the need for developing and primarily increasing the level of protein in North Korean’s diet has been a key narrative and impetus since virtually the moment of Liberation (indeed the current project to develop cattle breeding on Sepho’s grasslands is part of this long term developmental theme), it was particularly key in the late 1960s in many fields (and was a main theme within New Years Messages of the time). Accordingly fishing and fisheries are included within the frame of wider development.

In institutional terms, this text demands a panoply of institutions at all levels connect with each other, from the Ministry of Railways, to local party committees to the Party Central Committee. Ideological infusion is also a key element of this text: “We must launch a powerful ideological campaign amongst the fishery officials… and firmly establish the Party’s monolithic ideological system among them….”[15]

This text of course was articulated and published at what would turn out to be something of a high-water mark for North Korean internal developmental approach. While the 1970s would see Pyongyang’s conception of Juche agriculture and developmental approach spread through its external organizations throughout the non-aligned movement, structurally disruptive features of its economic approach would begin to build up to some of the stasis and strategic abandonment at the 1980 Party Congress. Fisheries policy would of course be subject to these issues and disruptions, so that in spite of the not insignificant infrastructural developments especially when it comes to fleet size and development, at sea North Korea development would suffer a similar fate.

In the next part of this series I will examine ideological, technical, and institutional approaches to piscine matters in the heady days of international connectivity in the 1970s, as well as tracking its developmental fall into the difficult 1980s and eventually the tumultuous 1990s. While the January 8 Fishery Station appears blessed with a fishy charismatic theatricality in our own day, such thematic narratological power was in definite and seemingly terminal short supply within the developmental frame of the coming era.

[1] Kim Il-sung, “On Developing The Fishing Industry on a New Basis,” Works 4 (Pyongyang, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1948), 304.

[2] Ibid., 304.

[3] Ibid.,306.

[4] Ibid.,307.

[5] Ibid.,307.

[6] Ibid.,308

[7] Kim Il-sung, “On the Development of the Fishing Industry,” Works 11 (Pyongyang, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1957), 96.

[8] Ibid.,97.

[9] Ibid.,97.

[10] Kim Il-sung, “On the Tasks of the Party Organizations in South Pyongan Province,” Works 14 (Pyongyang, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1960), 38.

[11] Ibid., 39.

[12] Ibid.,40.

[13] Kim Il Sung, “All Efforts to Attain the Six Goals,” Works 15 (Pyongyang, Foreign Languages Publishing House), 332.

[14] Kim Il Sung, “For Bringing About Rapid Progress in the Fishing Industry,” Works 22 (Pyongyang, Foreign Languages Publishing House), 261.

[15] Ibid., 274.


This post was originally published at – The author wishes to acknowledge the editorial support from colleagues at Sino-NK such as Dr Adam Cathcart, Christopher Green, Steven Denney and Darcie Draudt. Any edits or additions to the piece from its original authored draft are acknowledged. The author asserts his right to republish his own work here, but also acknowledges the element of co-production implicit from pieces originally published on

From the Sino-NK Archives (22) – 28.04.2014 – Vanadium and Socialism: Rare Earth Prospecting, Politics, and History in North Korea


Mining in the era of Songun | Image : Rodong Sinmun

Vanadium and Socialism: Rare Earth Prospecting, Politics, and History in North Korea

by Robert Winstanley-Chesters

When the faintly mysterious private equity vehicle SRE Minerals Ltd announced the creation of Pacific Century Rare Earth Mineral Limited, a joint venture with the DPRK’s Korea Natural Resources Trading Corporation, in December 2013, it set the analytic cat amongst the speculative pigeons in a fashion not unfamiliar in the world of North Korean reportage.

From Yongju to Jang | The discovery and analysis of the “Yongju Deposit” accordingly to SRE, Pacific Century and other analysts could mean that North Korea sits astride some 216 million tonnes of Rare Earths (and some 5.7 million tonnes of what the report excitedly branded “the more valuable heavy rare earth elements”) worth trillions in both dollars and geo-strategic import. If realized, the deposit would make North Korea one of the richest nations in the neighborhood, radically alter the market for Rare Earths, impacting enormously on its key players (namely the United States and China), and serve as a massive financial reserve for the North Korean government, one that could conceivably underpin its ideological and social system without reform in perpetuity.

All this sparked confusion, exasperation, intrigue and disbelief in almost equal measure. However, it was quickly overtaken by an event that it could even have spurred: the execution of Jang Song-taek. Of course, the death and narrative obliteration of Uncle Jang and his group remains opaque, and it is neither my desire nor inclination to assert direct causality where none can be established. Nevertheless, the co-option and control of similar developmental deals by Jang’s “clique” (if such a thing even existed), was one key rationale behind the assertion of his ‘criminal’ nature. Either way, the precipitous collapse of Jang set analytic tongues wagging in extremis, and quickly diminished interest in geologic exploitation.

As a result, the veracity of this enormous resource was never established, nor were the tools for such checks ever provided. SRE and Pacific Century’s online presence bears all the hallmarks of esoteric speculative exercise: the logic underlying some of the claims seems akin to asserting that because a similar geological formation to the north-west, within the territory of the PRC, holds reserves of some Rare Earths, such spaces in North Korea must do so as well. Thus, though this essay is no exercise in geologic debunking or revelation, I am suggesting that precisely this type of verification work is necessary, and intend to analyze the historical narrative and materiel available in order to at least underpin part of any future exercise of this nature.

While skepticism vis-a-vis SRE Minerals and the Yongju Deposit is wise, that is of course not to say that geological prospecting and fanaticism are by any means radical concepts for Pyongyang-based resource managers and mineral policymakers. Like most developmental sectors in North Korea, geological prospecting, and even the search for Rare Earths and other rare materials, has a far longer narrative tail than one might imagine.


Giving Definite Priority to Geological Prospecting | Image:

Narratives of Geological Prospecting | “On Giving Definite Priority to Geological Prospecting,” a speech given by Kim Il-sung in mid May 1961, is a key exemplar. It is not, however, the foundational document in the sector. For one thing, 1958’s dissatisfying “Tasks of the Party Organisation in Ryanggang Province” is referred to in the text of the speech itself: “In particular, great successes have been made since the discussion of the measures to improve prospecting in 1958….”[1] It is also placed in the lee of a great North Korean extension of geodesic mapping and surveying, by which “solid foundations” have been laid “… for the development of more mineral resources during the Seven-Year Plan and for an all-out geological survey in the coming years….”[2]

While centralized, long term planning may not be as overt in the era of SRE Minerals and the Yongju Deposit, it would be strange if Pyongyang’s institutions did not consider the same type of developmental focus a key part of the economic stratagem of the Byungjin era. In 1961, central planning was very much the key vehicle in North Korea, and Kim Il-sung placed geological prospecting well within the framework of the first Seven-Year Plan. Apparently, geologic prospecting had hitherto been achieved through intense focus on the immediate and short term, but a position within the Plan was deemed vital for the development of a more holistic production and research agenda: “Just as the State Planning Commission plans for the immediate period ahead and for the long-term period separately, so the geological prospecting sector must do both its immediate and long term surveys zealously.”[3]

Joint Ventures and the General Bureau |It is intriguing to note the peculiar organization of SRE’s ambitions for extraction and prospecting in the Yongju Deposit so far as institutional and narrative structures are concerned . Pacific Century Limited represents the externally recognizable manifestation of capitalist expectation, the “Joint Venture,” or JV; however, twinned with SRE is a North Korean agency called Korean Natural Resource Trading Corporation. No doubt this corporation is an extension of a yet still more labyrinthine institutional structure in the Pyongyang governance ecosystem; organization themes that were equally apparent in 1961. It was vital in Kim Il-sung’s conception for geological prospecting to be institutionally embedded and have the necessary connections with the Korean Workers Party. Thus, not only should “party guidance of the prospecting sector… be strengthened” but, in fact, “… the whole system of Party organizations in the prospecting sector should be reshaped to strengthen Party guidance for this sphere….”[4] This reshaping involved extending connections with youth organizations and provincial party structures, but also the development of “a political bureau” within the central institution of the sector, “The General Bureau of Geology.”

“The General Bureau of Geology,” which reported to the “Heavy Industry Commission,” had also to be well structured and institutionally partitioned so as allow for effective commissioning and execution of strategies and goals; it should be “broken down in squadrons and further into teams.” However, institutional organization and reorganization should not become the key and end goal of the sector: “… the organizational system must not be too complex. Excessive sub-division might complicate work rather than facilitate it….”[5]

From Nickel and Gold to Vanadium and Mercury | The output of this system and its institutional structure were of course to be vital, not only to the productive and developmental goals of the first Seven-Year Plan, but also, as is certainly the case for SRE and the Yongju Deposit, as far as the financial possibilities of the output of all three were concerned. Kim Il-sung in 1961 asserted for example, “You must strive to find out nickel ore. Nickel is valuable; it is indispensable for the development of the chemical and machine industries” Because of the resource’s apparent importance to North Korean industrial development, “We must not export nickel ore, no matter how we are hard pressed for foreign currency.” Instead, taking advantage of the outside world’s perceived decadence, proclivities and fragility, “We should mine a good quantity of gold and sell it rather than selling nickel. Gold is something that should be mined quickly and sold before the capitalist world completely breaks down….”[6]



This expansive, in depth understanding of extractive and geologic possibility in the mining sector of the late 1950s and early 1960s contains no trace of the Lanthanides, Yttrium, Cerium, or any of the other Rare Earths that SRE, Pacific Century and the Korean Natural Resource Trading Corporation will be hunting for as their instruments and equipment arrays traverse and prod the Yonju Deposit. Perhaps it is too early in North Korea’s scientific development for an awareness of such elements (Dysprosium, for example, was not even isolated until the 1950s). However, is it not the expansiveness and scope of potential and possibility that is the most revealing, and similar to the present day? The focus, the resolution of extraction problems for elements such as Mercury (“Mercury is found in our country, but we still cannot extract it by ourselves because we have not got the know-how….”[9]) will surely be repeated in SRE’s experience. Perhaps the optimism of revolutionary possibility has faded in the meantime, but not by any means the desire for leveraging the resources that can be extracted.

With the desire for extractive success in place, no doubt it will be an interesting experience for the (one hopes) optimistic and well leveraged participants of SRE, and for any brave investors who may follow them. I do not mean to imply the impossibility of their goal, although a warning in the shape of the Orascom and Koryolink enterprise may remind them of the matter of “extracting” profit from the North Korean domain. Rather, Kim Il-sung’s early demand that North Korean geologic prospectors seek the rare and unexpected does perhaps point to possibility buried deep in the rocks of Yongju. However, I am biding my time and undertaking long-term research and analysis, the better to demonstrate both historical and future extractive potential within Pyongyang’s domain.

[1] Kim Il-sung, “On Giving Definite Priority to Geological Prospecting,” Works 15 (Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1961), 92.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 94.

[4] Ibid., 101.

[5] Ibid., 101.

[6] Ibid., 95.

[7] Kim Il-sung, “Tasks of the Party Organizations in Ryanggang Province,” Works 12 (Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1958), 228.

[8] Kim Il-sung, “On Giving Definite Priority to Geological Prospecting,” Works 15 (Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1961), 96.

[9] Kim Il-sung, “On Further Developing the Mining Industry,” Works 16 (Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962), 320.


This post was originally published at – The author wishes to acknowledge the editorial support from colleagues at Sino-NK such as Dr Adam Cathcart, Christopher Green, Steven Denney and Darcie Draudt. Any edits or additions to the piece from its original authored draft are acknowledged. The author asserts his right to republish his own work here, but also acknowledges the element of co-production implicit from pieces originally published on